“I’m not evil, no matter what you think of me. I’m just human, there’s a part of you that’s just like me.”
Scott Stapp takes a risk opening his latest album, “Proof of Life,” with such an impassioned plea for sympathy, but it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve to have his case heard.
As the voice of Creed from 1994 to 2012, he shattered sales records, battled substance abuse, and inspired the kind of gargantuan disgust that only somebody often cited as “the most hated man in rock” could generate.
Everything he did was scrutinized inside and out by a public that turned on him as quickly as it anointed him a superstar, which would be a demoralizing fall for anyone to process, let alone someone whose self-destructive tendencies were becoming more publicized by the second.
In the early ‘00s, Creed-bashing unfairly evolved into a bloodsport designed to separate the elitists from the populists along lines of musical taste, a division exacerbated by the ubiquity of the Internet and various social media outlets.
If you ran for office in 2004 and it happened to surface during your campaign that you once purchased a ticket to see Creed in concert, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that your credibility would’ve been called into question.
That’s how ugly it was.
Granted, Stapp didn’t do himself any favors by acting as if he was master of the rock universe, but it’s still a shame that a talented band was made the scapegoat for a late ‘90s scene that produced the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn.
To paraphrase what Red said regarding Andy Dufresne’s journey to freedom in “The Shawshank Redemption,” Scott Stapp has crawled through a river of excrement and come out clean on the other side. He takes all the hate, negativity, and shallow piling on of criticism about him to task on this record, and, after speaking with him last week, I have nothing but support for his mission to reinvent both his personal and public persona.
When combined with his 2012 autobiography, “Sinner’s Creed,” “Proof of Life” is proof positive that Stapp has finally arrived at a place where he can be comfortable in his own skin.
Whatever affectations he had have disappeared for good. These 11 songs are an untethered reflection of how recovery has transformed him into someone he can live with, and I urge everyone to give them a chance.
Question: A lot transpired in your life from the time you released “The Great Divide” to the creation of “Proof of Life.” How did your personal trials influence the type of album you wanted to make?
Stapp: I was absolutely influenced by everything that happened. As an artist, I think the ups and downs I experienced played a vital role in shaping my approach to the record. I underwent a complete transformation and became a new human being, in a sense, because I finally recognized the type of person I wanted to be. The title of the album, “Proof of Life,” symbolizes where I was at that point in my life and the lyrics represent how far I’ve come. I shared myself with the world on this record and putting everything on the table was necessary for my recovery.
Question: “New Day Coming” is a track that I especially enjoyed for its hopeful outlook on the future. Do you feel as if you’re in a much better place now?
Stapp: Definitely. I was on the path to certain death in a lot of ways, so having a moment of clarity in which I was forced to discover a healthier way to live made me appreciate what I had that much more.
Question: Honesty has always been a significant element of your strength as a songwriter. How easy was it for you to really open yourself up for this album?
Stapp: It was very easy, because baring my soul for all to see and hear was part of my recovery. I wanted to bring an authenticity to the music that many people probably didn’t expect from me. Drug and alcohol addiction had been crippling me for the longest time, so preparing for this record was an easy transition. Because much of the pain of my past was self-inflicted, I knew I had to be in the right space personally to make people feel my transformation. You could say I had practice putting myself out there, so writing these songs was a genuine culmination of everything I had been through.
Question: Your voice sounds as powerful as ever throughout the album. How did the journey of making this album rekindle your passion for performing?
Stapp: I appreciate you saying that, it means a lot. My sobriety has allowed me to take care of myself better than I ever have before. I’m learning proper techniques on how to sing, mechanics, and how to get the most out of my voice without sacrificing its quality. The storm of life that I’ve endured has reinvigorated my sense of self and ignited a passion in me that I haven’t felt in a long time.
Question: In “Hit Me More,” you say that you had to “go through hell to find your heaven.” What would you have done differently had you been able to take a step back and reflect on your behavior at the time?
Stapp: Looking back, I would have tried to save myself sooner. I would have avoided hurting everyone along the way and not tried to ignore my issues. I’m in a mature place right now, so I basically took all my negative experiences and turned them into something I can be proud of. I was broken for too long and I often regret how long my recovery took to sink in, but I think everything happened for a reason. It’s just life, you know? Being able to grow and change for the better is something I wouldn’t trade for anything, because it’s made me who I am today.
Question: How have audiences responded to the material thus far?
Stapp: Everything I’ve heard has been amazing. The majority of critics have said nothing but good things and they’ve seen this album as new era for me as an artist.
Question: You worked with Howard Benson, who also produced Creed’s “Full Circle” in 2009, on this album. What is it about his process that you find fits you sound well?
Stapp: I think he’s a genius in the studio. He’s one of the most talented producers of the last 25 years, because he’s hardworking, prolific, and fresh with everything he does. He really knew me and how to get under my skin in a positive way. Our friendship and rapport was as genuine as you can get. He was an expert at pushing my buttons and putting me in contentious scenarios simply because he knew they would bring the best out of me. I wasn’t always happy about his methods at the time, but, looking back on it, I can see his approach as nothing but perfection. He realized that the title track of the album was symbolic of a life in captivity and inspired me to break out of the mental prisons I had built for myself. I was a slave to addiction and he stimulated and challenged me to put everything I had into this project. I was also fortunate to have Chris Lord-Alge mix the album, who is one of the greatest of all time, so it was a great experience all around.
Question: I thought “Full Circle” was one of the strongest albums Creed put out during its run. Was there ever any chance that the momentum would carry over into another album?
Stapp: I would agree with you, and I thank you for the compliment. We’ve always said that it would have to be passionate and authentic as opposed to doing it just for the money. The door is always open from my perspective, but it would have to come from a fresh place. For Creed, there was always a requirement that anything we did had to be organic rather than forced. I’m really proud of what we did on “Full Circle,” but, if we’re not all invested, there’s no other way.
Question: Given how many albums Creed sold, do you ever look back and think how amazing the whole experience was, especially now that record sales are on the decline?
Stapp: I have nothing but gratitude for everyone who supported us and bought our albums. It was really an anomaly, because those numbers just don’t happen anymore. It’s pretty mind-blowing when you think about it.
Question: What are your plans for the future once the touring wraps up?
Stapp: We’re planning to release some singles and continue promoting the record all over the world. We also have some outtakes from “Proof of Life” that are being readied for release along with some music videos, so I always have a lot going on.
You can be a part of Scott Stapp's next chapter at The Bear's Den inside Seneca Niagara Casino on June 27.
"Proof of Life" is available now.